Being sued by a hospital

Sued for medical debts by hospital

With the cost of medical care skyrocketing and many patients lacking adequate medical insurance it's not unusual for those with a serious health condition to generate medical bills they cannot pay. Recently on our legal forum we had a user ask, "What steps do I take if I am being sued by a hospital for medical debts?"

There are several steps you need to take immediately if you have been sued for medical debts. Below we discuss each step:

1. Respond immediately to the Summons and Complaint

Although you may be tempted to ignore the Summons and Complaint, even if you disagree with the complaint, it's important to respond. Failure to respond will allow the court to issue a default judgment against you. If the hospital receives a default judgment they may be able to garnish your wages or take funds from your bank accounts. Keep in mind, however, state laws vary. Some states do not allow wage garnishments for hospital debts.

Make sure to provide your Answer to the Complaint within the specified time period. Many lawyers recommend providing an answer which denies liability and see if the hospital is willing to offer a negotiated settlement.

2. Challenge the lawsuit and have them prove the amount you owe

Next, you can challenge the lawsuit by making sure the plaintiff has the right to sue. Most likely the hospital has sold the debt to another collection agency; make them prove they have the standing to file a lawsuit against you. Next, have the hospital clarify exactly what you owe. In many cases, even the original creditor may lack accurate documentation of the debts customers owe.

Finally, verify the lawsuit has been filed within your state's statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for written contracts in some states may be as little as four years. The statute of limitations probably will not bar the plaintiff from filing a lawsuit, but it may allow you, the defendant, to raise it as a defense before the conclusion of the trial. The court will dismiss the case if it accepts the statute of limitations defense. Consider, however, there are actions which can toll or stop the statute of limitations.

3. Argue the plaintiff violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act there are certain creditor actions which are illegal. If you believe you have been unfairly harassed by a creditor or they have violated the FDCPA, you may be entitled to statutory damages of $1000, plus punitive and economic damages.

Filing bankruptcy to discharge medical debts

If you have tried to negotiate with creditors, tried to repay your debts and analyzed any defenses you might have to challenge a lawsuit and all of your actions have failed, you may be able to have your unsecured hospital debts discharged through bankruptcy.

If you owe less than $10,000 it probably will not make sense to file bankruptcy. Given the impact to your credit score and the cost of bankruptcy most debtors will simply need to find a way to pay small amounts of medical debt.

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